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Speer: Jury is still out on later school start

September 4, 2009
Bill Speer

Do you agree with the mandate in Michigan that schools cannot begin classes until after Labor Day?

While I understand the premise behind it, I'm still not a fan of it.

In years when Labor Day falls late as it does this weekend, the start of a new school seems particularly crazy. Most new school years across the country began in the past two weeks and some, like many in southern states, began the first week of August. Some students in the Atlanta area, for example, already have a month of classes under their belt.

The argument to delaying school until after Labor Day is based on student seasonal help each summer and extra tourism dollars. By delaying the start of school in Michigan until after the last summer holiday weekend, businesses don't find themselves short-handed. And, the argument goes, families are more prone to travel and take a vacation the end of the summer than at the beginning - especially in Michigan where the only thing certain about the weather is that it is unpredictable.

A research paper done for the Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan in 2001 showed 54 percent of those polled were more likely to vacation the end of the summer - in August - than in June.

The Michigan Legislature in 2005 enacted the legislation that would postpone the state of school until after Labor Day and it met with bi-partisan approval.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm called the legislation a great economic tool for northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula while state Sen. Tony Stamas, R-Midland, said since tourism was such a foundation to northern Michigan's economic base, it was a positive move.

According to the Michigan State University Tourism and Recreation Center, an additional $10 million in tax revenues could be realized by extending the state's summer by two weeks.

Of course, being able to extend the state's summer seems something more appropriate to Disney World theatrics. How can you control Mother Nature and the weather, as was the case this year, or factor in the crash of the national economy, as was the case in every summer but one since the legislation was enacted?

I know some legislators and a governor who would salivate over that extra $10 million right now and I have to wonder if the same researcher who came up with that figure also has a bridge for sale in Brooklyn?

While unfortunate, no one knows for sure whether the premise has merit or not as the state's economy tanked shortly after enactment of the mandate.

While tourism and economic officials hailed the post-Labor Day school start, educators and teachers groups were less enthused.

Teachers were opposed as it took something that was a negotiating item in the past for them and removed it off the bargaining table.

Educators were frustrated as it removed from them local control and forced them to adjust school days in ways they believed were detrimental to learning. Six years ago students were required by state law to be in school 180 days. That was changed to 1,098 hours and in essence, it meant students were going to school longer each day. Educators argued longer days are not conducive to learning.

Earlier this year the Center for Michigan released a finding that following the 2005 post-Labor Day school start, 95 percent of school districts today are in school less than 180 days and a third of all districts in the state are in school less than 170 days. When you factor in allowable snow days and cancellations, most districts are in session only 1,066 hours - or a whole week less than what originally was intended.

I don't know - maybe pondering when school should start is just not that important. In an Alpena News poll a few weeks ago we asked whether state lawmakers had it right back in 2005 when they mandated students start school after Labor Day.

Ten percent of our readers responded to the poll, with 76 percent agreeing with the move, 22 percent against it and 2 percent undecided. Clearly, readers thought the move was a good one.

What do you think?



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